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Geese with fishy backstory visit Crossness for first time

Tuesday 30th March 2021 12:25

Barnacle geese at Crossness Nature Reserve

Photo by Terence Baker

A type of goose – which was once thought to be a fish (no, really!) – has been spotted at a Thames Water nature reserve in London for the first time. 

Three barnacle geese have been photographed at Crossness Nature Reserve in Abbey Wood, the site of one of the last remaining areas of grazing marsh in London, and next to Crossness Sewage Works - one of the biggest in Britain. 

In the Middle Ages it was thought barnacle geese hatched from barnacles in the sea. It meant they were regarded as seafood, meaning people could get around the Church’s ban on eating meat on Fridays and during Lent. 

The Crossness geese are believed to be part of a small UK breeding population of 900 feral pairs descended from escaped captive birds in southern England. As such, they have an amber UK conservation status. 

Wild barnacle geese, however, breed in places like Greenland and Svalbard but migrate to Scotland, Ireland and northern England between October and March for the milder weather. 

Karen Sutton, nature reserve manager, said: “Protecting the environment and looking after wildlife is one of Thames Water’s key priorities so it’s wonderful to see these majestic birds coming to visit our Crossness Nature Reserve for the first time. 

“It’s one of the few remaining areas of grazing marsh in London and has the biggest reedbeds in Bexley. Along with ponds and ditches, and areas of scrub and rough grassland, it’s a perfect site for wildlife to thrive. 

“More than 200 species of birds have now been recorded here. We’re also a major site for water voles, water beetles and scarce plants like hedge parsley, Borror’s Saltmarsh Grass and Frog Rush.” 

The barnacle goose is one of Britain’s smallest geese and grazes on vegetation, such as roots, stems, leaves and seeds. Unlike the Canada goose, the barnacle goose does not have any brown plumage. 

For more about Crossness Nature Reserve, including how to become a member to gain access to protected wildlife areas and to take part in exclusive events, visit our page about Thames Days Out.

A barnacle goose at Crossness Nature Reserve

Photo by Daniel Nikolov